A titan of Cobb County has died.
Fred “Bowtie” Bentley Sr. died early Friday morning in his Pine Mountain home outside Kennesaw. The last surviving original member of the Cobb County Bar Association, former state representative and senator and founder of the Bentley, Bentley and Bentley Law Firm was 92.
“Fred Bentley Sr. was an agent for change for our county and state,” said former Attorney General Sam Olens. “His interests and passion were as deep as his love of family and community. He was a legendary lawyer who relished the complex and difficult case. His love of people and the arts benefited numerous nonprofit organizations.
“Fred was selfless, a mentor to many, a person who loved helping others; in other words, a huge loss for our community,” Olens added.
Born in 1926, he graduated from Marietta High School and earned his undergrad degree from Presbyterian College. He went on to get a law degree from Emory University and began private practice in 1948.
Not long after that, he was elected to the state House, where he served three terms, from 1951 to 1957, and he served one term in the state Senate in 1958.
It was clear from the start of his career that Bentley was a man of distinction. In 1951, he was named “Young Man of the Year,” and in 1953, he was named one of the “Hundred Young Men of Tomorrow” for the Atlanta area by Time Magazine.
It turns out he would live up to those high expectations – Bentley’s list of accomplishments, titles and honors is long.
He was instrumental in the creation of what is now Kennesaw State University and helped bring about the multimillion dollar Kennedy Interchange in Cumberland and even helped author Kennesaw’s famous gun law.
The list of institutions he helped to found include the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art, the Center for Family Resources and Charter Bank and Trust.
Bentley’s office was like a museum, filled with historical artifacts including an 1818 engraving of the Declaration of Independence made for Thomas Jefferson, moldings of Abraham Lincoln’s face and hands and a pen knife owned by Charles Dickens.
Bentley shared his love of history with the community, contributing to the rare book library at Kennesaw State, as well as museums at the University of Georgia and Emory.
Two Georgia Universities have rare book collections named in his honor: the Mr. and Mrs. Fred D. Bentley Sr. Rare Book Galleries at Kennesaw State and at Brenau University in Gainesville.
The Akers Mill Road Bridge over Interstate 75 is also named in his honor.
It was on the KSU board of trustees that Bentley first met Bob Prillaman, retired Senior Vice President of Caraustar Industries and community leader.
Prillaman said Bentley was a man who truly loved to serve.
“Fred Bentley just defines what a caring community leader is all about,” he said. “It was natural for him to become involved in things of value in the community. He gave paintings and art to KSU, he gave a lot of books to KSU, and he took such great pleasure in giving these gifts. Nothing pleased him more than for the students to gain a bit of the history that was behind the arts.”
Prillaman said Bentley was always happy to lend his support wherever it was needed. He gave the recent example of a time when MUST Ministries needed to buy new washing machines.
“Fred learned of this, I don’t know how he learned of it, but he did like he always did, he stopped everything he was doing, called around until he got enough money to take care of this need. … If there was ever any kind of event supporting the arts, he was the first person to write a check, he worked to get people to purchase tables or whatever was required,” Prillaman said. “The man, he just did it.”
Prillaman said what he will miss most about Bentley is his big smile and his gift for making everyone feel good with his stories.
Bentley was a member of the Marietta Community Church and led lay witness missions to proclaim the Gospel across the U.S. Friends and former colleagues described him as a man of strong faith who carried around small silver crosses, which he gave out to people he met.
Ethics and moralsThe Rev. Nelson Price, retired pastor at Roswell Street Baptist Church, said he was never Bentley’s official pastor, but the two were close friends and neighbors who often discussed spiritual matters.
“He was quite clear in giving his life to the Lord and his son, and he spoke in a number of churches, not just here in Georgia, but around the country,” Price said. “He was very sincere in his faith, dedicated to his community and to trying to improve it.”
Price said Bentley had a playful side as well. Bentley took great pride every year on his birthday in standing next to a chair and jumping over it.
And Bentley and Price had something of a practical joke war going back and forth. Price said on one occasion, he bought a copy of the Last Supper painted on black velvet and hung it above the mantle at the art-loving Bentley’s office with a little Christmas light above each apostle’s head.
“He got kidded about that for a long time,” Price said with a laugh. “We stayed on each other in a very good-natured way, but nevertheless, little practical things from time to time.”
Bentley was preceded in death by his brother, Jack, and his wife of 43 years, Sara Moss Bentley. He is survived by two children, Fred D. Bentley Jr. and R. Randall Bentley. He had six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He was also preceded in death by his second wife of 19 years, Jane McNeel Bentley, and is survived by five stepsons.
A private interment will be held at the Gresham Family Cemetery off Shallowford Road in Marietta, with family receiving visitors at Mayes-Ward Dobbins Funeral Home in Marietta on Oct. 25 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
A memorial service will be conducted at Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta the following day at 2 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to either Marietta Community Church or the Fred D. Bentley Sr. Scholarship at KSU.